EastEnders casts transgender actor in transgender role on UK television

Riley Carter Millington

EastEnders is about to get a new permanent resident on Albert Square.

And when Kyle moves in briefly this month, and then back for good at the end of the year, he'll be making television history.

The actor playing him, 21-year-old Riley Carter Millington, is the first transgender actor to play a transgender character in a UK soap.

It's his first acting role and he can't wait to get started. "I am excited to be joining EastEnders," he says.

"I can honestly say that I have now fulfilled my two biggest dreams - to be living my life as a man and to be an actor."

So far not much is known about Kyle but EastEnders' writers say he'll have his secrets and get a big storyline at the end of this year.

The show's executive producer, Dominic Treadwell-Collins, believes EastEnders is well-known for pushing boundaries with stories including Mark Fowler contracting HIV and Colin and Barry's first gay kiss.

"It's always led the way in changing audience perceptions about 'difference'," he says.

Mark Fowler
Image caption Mark Fowler, played by Todd Carty, told his on-screen parents, Pauline and Arthur, he was HIV-positive on Boxing Day 1991

And, he made sure they were careful to cast the right actor after being incredibly moved by the life stories of the transgender actors who auditioned.

"The people we met showed us a strength and bravery that took our breath away," he explains.

"To go through as much as they have while maintaining humour and a positive view on the world is testament to what special people we met."

Michael Cashman as Colin Russell and Gary Hailes as Barry Clark
Image caption Michael Cashman as Colin Russell and Gary Hailes as Barry Clark in 1987 - their on-screen relationship led to the first gay kiss on primetime TV

It's not the first transgender character in a British soap, that was Hayley in Coronation Street.

However, the role's been welcomed by transgender actor, Bethany Black, who made TV drama history herself in February.

She played transgender character, Helen, in Channel 4's Banana and Cucumber, created by Queer as Folk producer, Russell T Davis.

In it, Helen turns to her family for support after a jealous ex-boyfriend posts revenge porn of her when he finds out she's seeing someone else.

"I auditioned for that role (in EastEnders) and I think it's fantastic," she says.

Trans actor and comedian Bethany Black
Image caption Trans actor and comedian, Bethany Black

"It's about time we saw more trans roles on television. Being trans is like being gay was in the late 90s - it's a cool thing, so people are saying, 'Let's go and do this as a storyline'."

"As we progress we're going to see more of these roles. It's democratising the whole process."

EastEnders' bosses are keen to point out that employing Riley Carter Millington isn't about tokenism and that he's not just "a talented actor, but also an inspirational young man".

They say his character, Kyle, will be "fresh and relatable" and they hope the audience will take him to their hearts quickly.

"I cannot wait to really get stuck in with filming and I look forward to seeing what is in store for my character," says Riley.

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